Road Racing Rigs

The Tonka Super Truck Racing Series is governed by the Super Truck Racing Series of North America (STRANA), which was founded in 2001.

People who buy automobiles off the showroom floor can relate to NASCAR racing. Those who spend their drive time in pickup trucks also have kindred spirits in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

And now big rig wheelmen have a racing series to call their own, thanks to the Tonka Super Truck Racing Series.

The circuit, which held the Tonka Super Truck Celebrity Challenge this year, features Class 8 tractors running, spinning and passing on road courses throughout the United States and Canada. Modeled after the popular European Truck Racing Series, the new kid on the motorsports block hopes to present North American fans with an exciting combination of speed and power.

However, it is also a marketing tool for the trucking industry. Billing the series with the mantra “As Big As Racing Gets,” the organization offers primary sponsorship of a truck ($200,000), event naming and a private hospitality tent for 50 VIPs ($50,000), associate sponsorship of a truck ($35,000) and official supplier/corporate sponsorships ($10,000-$20,000).

“About three years ago we started working with a German company that was looking for marketing opportunities,” says Craig Lerner, co-founder of the Tonka Super Truck Series, which is governed by the Super Truck Racing Association of North America (STRANA). “We were concentrating on heavy duty truck marketing, and they clued us in on how popular this kind of racing was in Europe.

“The more I heard about it the more I liked the idea, and I finally said, ‘We can do that here.’ I saw most of my associates’ jaws drop, but I really thought we had a chance to make a go of it.”

The creation of STRANA was announced in March 2001, and the organization conducted its first test sessions three months later at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The event was covered by ESPN’s “RPM2Night” program.

“When we first started, we realized we’d run into some brick walls,” Lerner says. “And we knew in order to be successful we had to have television. Any time you want to create a brand new sport and get it on television it’s tough, but it’s amazing how quickly people warmed to it.”

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By August 2001, STRANA reached a sanctioning agreement with the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), which gave the fledgling series instant credibility.

“That was a huge boost for us,” Lerner says. “And I think the main thing that helped us was there is no parity out there. We’re not competing with stock cars or open wheels; there’s nothing else like it in North America.

“We look at truckers as the last American cowboys, and we really felt strongly that by bringing races involving these machines to this country, it could really become successful.”

The circuit got one of its biggest boosts in November 2002 when ESPN 2 broadcast a 30-minute documentary that examined the history of Super Truck Racing in Europe as well as the efforts to create a similar series in North America.

Soon a television deal was reached with the sports programming network, and the race, so to speak, was on.

ArvinMeritor provides the driveline and axle components, Haldex supplies brake systems and Elan Motorsports Technologies Group, based out of Atlanta, will manufacture spec rolling chassis and provide technical support to the series and its teams.

This year the circuit held three races. The first was the Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway in California July 25-27. Next up was the Grand Prix at Mosport, which was held Aug. 15-17 at Mosport International Raceway in Bowmanville, Ontario. The last event of 2003 was the Road America 500 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., Aug. 22-24.

In 2004 the Tonka Series will get serious. While the schedule has yet to be finalized, as many as 12 to 18 trucks are expected to converge on road courses across North America for a given event.

Nextel Takes the Wheel

The ‘Winston’ is gone from NASCAR’s ‘Winston Cup’

The legendary Winston Cup, for 31 years the ultimate prize in stock car racing, is headed for the pits.

And in its place comes a brand new prize with the name Nextel on it, as one of America’s giant wireless communication corporations steps in to sponsor NASCAR races.

Meet the Driver

Brett Bodine
DOB: 1/11/59
Hometown: Chemung, N.Y.
Drives Hooters-sponsored cars for the race team he owns.

Bodine has raced in Winston Cup since 1986 and scored his only career win in 1990 when he captured a victory at North Wilkesboro. He became a driver/owner in 1996 and has yet to score a top-5 finish since he began pulling double duty.

Bodine is a graduate of the University of New York at Alfred with a degree in mechanical engineering and was inducted into the Waverly (N.Y.) High School Hall of Fame in 2000.

A 10-year, $700 million deal between the Nextel Corporation and NASCAR will mark the end of the line for R.J. Reynolds’ sponsorship of the sanctioning body’s senior circuit.

The announcement that Nextel would be the new title sponsor of NASCAR’s premiere circuit means the communications giant will spend $40 million per year in rights fees and another $30 million annually to promote the sport.

Nextel is the leading provider of wireless communications services on the largest all-digital wireless network in the country.

RJR – under the Winston brand – spent roughly $45 million per year on what will still be known as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series until the end of the 2003 campaign.

“Nextel is a partner with a strong brand, a bright future and a vision for growing our sport,” says NASCAR President Bill France Jr. “They are one of the most technologically advanced and an acknowledged leader in a sector that helps drive the U.S. economy.”

The deal, which begins with the 2004 racing season, marks an end to a long and storied relationship between the stock car series and tobacco company.

The pair joined forces in 1971, and soon the top level of NASCAR became the Winston Cup Series, and its all-star race was known simply as The Winston.

Due to heavy restrictions on cigarette advertising, it was only a matter of time before RJR was forced to pull out of its huge sports investment. Cigarette advertising is banned from television and radio, and tobacco cannot be marketed to people under the age of 18.
Nextel, on the other hand, is free to pursue the youth market that NASCAR longs to tap.

Aside from the loss of Winston in the series title, the all-star race will also get a new name. Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte is the longtime site of The Winston, which will tentatively be renamed the NASCAR All-Star Race presented by Nextel. While thanking RJR for all it has done for the sport, LMS owner Humpy Wheeler warmly welcomed the new title sponsor.

“The Nextel announcement is a real breath of fresh air,” Wheeler says in a statement. “Our good friends at Winston have been so saddled by regulation that it made for a difficult environment. This clears the air and brings us a partner that’s a huge player in the enormous communications industry.

“This will do a number of things. First, we believe they’ll be open to new ideas that will make this sport even stronger. Second, it gives our television partners a vital anchor advertiser. It’s only a little over a year and a half before negotiations on a new TV contract begin, so the timing is outstanding. And third, it gives us a strong marketing boost among our current and potential new advertisers.”

The sponsorship gives Nextel a stronger presence in the sports world. Already affiliated with the NFL, major league baseball and the NHL, it now will underwrite a sport second only to the NFL in TV viewership.

Ned Leary, president of sports marketing enterprises for RJR, released a statement congratulating NASCAR and Nextel.

“We’ve enjoyed a 33-year relationship with an outstanding partner in NASCAR,” Leary says. “We’ve been very fortunate to be part of this dynamic and unique sport. We appreciate everything NASCAR, the drivers and teams have done for us over the years.”